Rich Tandler's Nationals blog.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Can they keep it up and contend for a playoff spot this year, about, oh, 10 years before anyone thought they would?
Certainly, there's a long way to go, but we're far enough along so that we can begin to gather some clues as to whether this relatively hot start can last into the dog days of summer. Statistics start to take on some meaning after 30 games, to the point where we can have a degree of confidence, albeit a small one, in what they tell us.
One thing I always look for when a team is performing considerably over expectations is whether or not it is performing considerably better than its stats. It's simple, really. It's very unusual for a team with poor batting stats to score a lot of runs over the course of a full season. Such a team is usually getting it done with the proverbial smoke and mirrors. As the season wears on, it's much more likely that its run production will be dragged down to the level of the stats than the numbers rising to meet the runs scored. Conversely, a team that is scoring considerably fewer runs that one might expect from its stats will tend to start to score more runs as time goes by.
Keeping it simple here (not much purpose in putting too fine a point on it after less than a fifth of a season), the main factors in scoring runs are getting on base, statistically expressed as On-Base Percentage or OBP and moving those who get on base further towards home, expressed as Total Bases or TB. A team among the league leaders in these areas should be among the leaders in runs scored and a team performing poorly here will not get many runs across the plate.
The Nats have scored 140 runs, eighth in the NL. However, their OBP of .342 is fourth in the league as is their TB number of 452.
They should be scoring more runs than they are and, if they keep it up, the chances are that they will cross the plate more. The chances are also good that they could maintain their current run production even if their OBP and TB numbers fall off significantly.
On the pitching and defense side of the ledger, the picture is similar. The Nats have allowed 133 runs, the tenth-best performance in the league. However they've yielded their opponents just 316 Total Bases, second-best in the NL. Their opponents' OBP of .333 is tenth. They're underachieving slightly here as well.
Certainly, you don't want to put too much into all of this. It's only brought up to point out that the Nationals have not built their record on smoke and mirrors. They haven't been lucky; one could argue, in fact, that they've been a bit unlucky.
Friday, May 06, 2005
The first part, the one about the numbers, can be answered in two parts. First, Tony Armas is scheduled to come off of the disabled list early next week and there's no point is shuttling someone up from New Orleans to fill that 11th spot when he's just going to get sent down again. Second, if you don't have a lefty reliever, why hold a slot on the roster for one? You can choose between having another righty setup man, one who could be getting in some time on the mound in New Orleans or another bat on the bench. The bat on the bench seems to be the way that Frank Robinson has chosen to go.
Yes, it would be great if the team could make a phone call and either call up a lefty or trade for one for a reasonable price. But there are no lefthanders who are ready in the system and the trade premium for lefties is always high. It's better to have a mediocre righty going out there then a southpaw who is either not ready or highly substandard.
You can't put a 25-man roster together based on the players you wish you had, you have to work with what you've got. The current situation is a byproduct of the years of neglect of the minor league system. It's shameful that there is not a single lefthanded pitcher in the organization who can fill in the void.
But it is what it is.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Every year, however, a team or two surprises. One that is supposed to finish last sneaks up on the pack, makes some playoff noise and finishes with a much better record than most predict. Why can't the Nationals be that team in 2005?
Here's what they have going for them that makes you think that they could shock the world and finish, say, third in the division:
- Solid starting pitching--The rotation of Hernandez, Ohka, Loaiza, Day and Armas (once he is back) has five pitchers capable of winning 12-15 games each. It's not a rotation that will make anyone forget the Braves of the mid-90's or anything like that, but there's not one who, at this point, makes you cringe when you hear he's tonight's starter. Plus to hold onto those leads there's Chad Cordero, who can slam the door with great consistency.
- Some good defense up the middle--Brian Schneider is the best defensive catcher in the NL. Cristian Guzman is a very good shortstop and Jose Vidro, while he may have lost a step, is solid at second base. Every fifth day when Hernandez takes the mound the Nationals have the best-fielding pitcher in the league in the middle of the diamond. There are question marks in center since the Nats sent Endy Chavez down to the minors, but the defense up the middle is among the best in the division.
- They have a couple of possible stars in Wilkerson and Guillen--Even if Wilkerson just follows a normal progression he'll put up All-Star type numbers this year. And of course Guillen is a legit five-tool player who just needs to keep his head on straight to blossom into a feared player in the lineup.
- They'll be able to sneak up on other teams--At least in the early going, nobody is going to juggle their rotation to make sure their aces are lined up for the upcoming Nats series.
- There are a couple of possible paper tigers in the division--Philadelphia and New York have added a ton of talent over the past couple of years, but the parts just don't seem to fit together. At least one of them should collapse completely and the other could struggle to go .500.
The call here is that after some horrendous luck on the injury front and an equally awful playing situation in Montreal/San Juan over the past few years, this team gets a bit more than its share of the breaks and spends a good chunk of the season over .500. They probably won't quite finish there. We'll go with 78-84 for the final mark, which will be good for fourth, possibly third, in the NL East.
Monday, March 28, 2005
- Four owners of Major League Baseball teams told me that if this thing is not put to bed by mid week they are going to tell Angelos to walk and sue them. Calls to owners and other members of baseball community are mad at Angelos for his not accepting a once in a lifetime deal.
- This is the single biggest league give - away in sports history and many owners see no reason to give Peter everything. So it comes to an end this week.
- People forget that the Nationals are owned by all 30 teams including Angelos. In a vote as you may recall back in December they voted 29-1 to move the team to DC - before then MLB wanted to work out a fair compensation package - which they did not have to do...the lawsuit was a concern but now they don't care because MLB is convinced and most lawyers I have spoken to -- say that the Orioles should take the money because IF he sues he will lose. Why? Baseball has given Angelos ALL of what he wanted except the TV deal that he wanted which was to own the Nationals TV rights.
- So now it is time to take the deal or walk and either way CSN will be involved either the managing partner of the Nats- O's and CSN regional cable network, or they will sign the Nats to a deal that will be worth as much if not more than the O's.
- Many owners said at this point they don't care if Angelos walks. The team will sell over 2.5 million tickets or more so MLB can jack up the franchise price to a low point of $375 million to $450 dollars and a huge part of that is TV deal. So it is over for Peter, he either takes the amazing deal on the table or risk getting nothing.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Will DC fans see Schneider and Co on local TV?
Nats TV--This is the Week!
By Jim Williams Courtesey The Washington Examiner
Date: Mar 13, 2005
Jim Williams of the Washington Examiner, a noted radio and TV industry insider, was kind enough to give Capitol Dugout a sneak peek at his upcoming Examiner column about the status of the one piece of the puzzle that has to get into place for the Nationals.
Nats TV Battle Coming Down to the Wire
By: Jim Williams
This is the week that we can expect something to break on the Nationals TV front. I have been working the phones all weekend and to say Major League Baseball is frustrated with O’s boss Peter Angelos is an understatement! Some owners have voiced an interest in having MLB walk away from the deal and telling Angelos to sue them! However, frustration while high is not likely to surface if MLB thinks they can get a deal done on compensation.
My sources close to Major League Baseball told me that MLB is working very hard to finalize the new regional cable network (RSN) between the Nationals – Orioles and either Fox Sport Net or Comcast SportsNet. The orders have gone out from the highest offices in baseball to get the deal done! That means MLB would like to split the TV section out of the compensation plan, for now and get that done so the Nationals can be on TV. They would then continue the rest of the compensation talks after the RSN deal is in place.
It has become clear that Angelos will not allow the Nationals to do a one year deal of their own. Instead he is steadfastly holding on to the notion that this must be a shared market (something we have been reporting for well over a month!) and that both the O’s and Nats have an equal number of games on the newly formed RSN. (Again, something we have been reporting for over a month!)
If the deal does not get done by Friday then the season opener for the Nationals against the Phillies on April 4th is in jeopardy of not being seen.
People in both the ad business and TV programming have told me that the O’s dragging their feet and not getting a deal done with MLB has killed the Nationals TV for 2005 in many ways.
From the sponsorship side budgets for baseball have been spent months ago meaning that while no doubt there will local businesses that want to be part of Nats TV it will be hard to figure out what an ad spot will cost since there is no network in place.
On the programming side sources have told me that even if WB 50 or UPN 20 wanted to carry the Nationals they would have to make some significant changes to their schedules.
You see TV schedules are made up months in advance and ads are sold for those programs so to alter the schedules to fit the Nationals in would be tough at this time. Not impossible mind you but very tough because of prior program, network and advertising commitments.
CSN could work out a schedule for the Nats and my guess is that somewhere in their Bethesda offices they even have a master Nationals TV schedule to be activated should they be allowed to do the games by “King Peter.”
The O’s took out an AD in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post saying that the Post (and the Examiner) got the whole thing wrong! Indeed the O’s want the Nationals to be part of THEIR network!
Thanks King Peter you are a real pal!
The ad stated that when Angelos bought the team the rights to Washington and all points south belonged to the Orioles. That is just plain not true! A check of the ownership papers shows that the O’s territory ends around Columbia. He has gotten the DC, northern Virginia markets for free because there has not been a team in the DC area.
Also in the ad the Orioles point out that they established their own network as the foundation to service the entire territory. Well, O’s TV has been producing the broadcast (non CSN games) for three years but as for a RSN of the O’s own that would be a hard sell. You see they would have to work with cable companies to clear a channel for just the Orioles and to do that they would have to deal with the major cable owner in the region.
Want to guess who that is?
Comcast still has the O’s rights through 2006 and trust me they won't let them out of any deal unless Comcast SportNet is a partner.
Finally the ad states that the O’s are willing to pay the Nationals millions of dollars for their rights. Again think about this….The Orioles want to own the Nationals TV rights?
I am absolutely certain that the new Nationals owners would love to pay nearly $400 million dollars for a team whose TV rights are owned by the Orioles. Yea, that is going to happen!
It should be noted for the record that the O’s TV network productions lack the top notch quality of CSN. The games are not offered in HD and to be quite honest about it they do things on the cheap hiring less than CSN standard production facilities.
After that ad you can see what I have been telling you for over a month and that is MLB baseball is dealing with a man who wants to high jack TV money that he has no right to have! All hail “King Peter!”
A network that has the Nationals, Orioles and CSN is what is best for the fans of the Washington area. Any things else would be a travesty and a total slap in the face to baseball fans in this region.
Maybe you can now feel some of the pain of the MLB team that has been working on the deal with the Orioles.
Meanwhile, the poor folks at the Nationals front office have all that good news about tickets and the radio deal is working out fine, so far, but no TV.
It is a crime and one that MLB is hoping to resolve by Friday
Saturday, March 12, 2005
27 year old shortstop, 6-0, 195, switch hitter, throws right. Career BA .266, OBP .303, SLG .382, 39 HR, 289 RBI in six seasons.
A slap-hitting shortstop who is solid defensively but needs to show more patience at the plate to be effective offensively.
At the All-Star break in 2001, Cristian Guzman was one of the game’s rising stars at the age of 23. He was an excellent-fielding short stop who had the speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples as well as some occasional home run pop in his bat. A shoulder injury later in that season derailed Guzman’s rise to a spot among the game’s elite and now he’s very close to being in the “good-field, no-hit” category of shortstops.
To quote the Baseball Prospectus on him, “You typically don’t see this kind of career stagnations without invoking the name of Steven Segal.”
Guzman’s downfall at the plate is his utter lack of patience. Even during his All-Star season, he struck out nearly four times as often as he walked (78 K’s, 21 BB’s). Last year, the ratio “improved” to about two strikeouts for every walk (64-30), still a terrible performance for a batter without much power (8 HR last year).
As one would expect with the low walk totals, his on base percentage is dismal; it was just .309 last year. He doesn’t bring anything in terms of stolen bases potential either with just 10 steals in 15 attempts in 2004. Given all of this, it’s somewhat surprising that he’s penciled in to hit second in the order.
Unless he can learn how to work the count he’ll have to earn his four-year, $16.8 million contract in the field. Although he’s not one of the more spectacular fielders you’ll see during the season, he has good range, he doesn’t bobble many balls when he gets to them and he has a strong arm.
It would be a big plus if Guzman could develop the ability to take a few more pitches, but there aren’t very many cases of a batter dramatically improving his OBP at the age of 27 and seven seasons into his big-league career. Still, if he can just either get to first a little more often or gain some power he’ll be a very valuable player because of his defense.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: .255 BA, .290 OBP, 5 HR
Upside: ..280 BA, .315 OBP, 12 HR
To find Cristian Guzman’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://baseball-reference.com/g/guzmacr01.shtml
To find previous player profiles in the “Who Are These Guys?” series introducing you to your new Washington Nationals, visit the Capitol Dugout home page at CapitolDugout.com and search for “Nationals”.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Many owners have voiced their displeasure to MLB reps working with Angelos. They want this thing tied up and this is a very important week. Meanwhile the Nats radio network is moving fast to add stations and we could have a list as soon as a week from today that will include a Baltimore station.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Other news: The team made its first cuts of the spring, reassingning the following players to minor league camp: pitchers Seth Greisinger, Luis Pineda, Chad Durbin, Micah Bowie, Drew McMillan, infielders Rick Short, Jared Sandberg and Phil Hiatt and outfielder Brandon Watson. After today's game in lovely Lakeland against the Tigers, pitchers Bill Bray and Josh Karp will be sent down.
So with such a news vacuum, the conversation become speculation, like will Terrmel Sledge be traded. From Svlurga in yesterday's Post:
His name will come up as much as anybody's in the Washington Nationals' spring training camp, whispered by scouts and media members alike. He will appear in left field, in right, at first base and maybe a bit in center. He has the respect of his manager because of the way he handled himself during a miserable stretch to start his major league career. He draws the praise of his general manager because of the look in his eye every time he steps into the batter's box.
So while there are questions about whether he'll start and where he'll play, the most significant uncertainty about Terrmel Sledge continues to be: On Opening Day, will he be a Washington National?
Jim Bowden, or Trader Jim as many refer to him, said this about trading Sledge:
"It'd be real hard for me to trade a guy like him," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said Monday, "because they don't come often."
Note the missing words and phrases typically associated with a statement about a player that a GM won't trade such as "untouchable" or "no way" or "don't bother calling" or anything like that. What he's saying is code for "I'll only let him go for a left-handed starter" or something like that.
The emergence of Alex Escobar as a possible viable alternative as a fourth outfielder makes such a deal a possibility. Still, the view here is that it would be better to give Endy Chavez--who is still hacking away at anything thrown in his general direction--his walking papers and have Sledge lead off. His OBP wasn't great last year at .336, but he did have two minor league seasons where it was near .400 so there is a prospect for improvement there.
TV Blackout Continues
Cartoon courtesy NatFanatics.com
This is a red-letter day of sorts; the Washington Post wrote an editorial that I agree with 100%.
The situation is not simple, and the stakes are high. Washington's team,
the Nationals, is owned by Major League Baseball, which has a considerable
interest in getting the best price it can from the people who will be bidding on
the franchise when it goes on sale. Any team that has had its prospective TV
money greatly reduced by an uneven revenue-sharing arrangement such as the one
Mr. Angelos appears to be seeking -- and we are talking about sums that would go
a long way toward financing a major league payroll -- would be worth a lot less
at sale. One possible scenario has Mr. Angelos and the Orioles getting the
lion's share of money from a joint regional network that would televise both
teams -- regardless of whether the more populous Washington area and Nationals
fans were the primary source of that money. Another possibility would be for the
Orioles and Nationals to make their own separate deals with broadcasters. The
complication here is that Mr. Angelos appears to have a far more expansive view
than do his baseball peers of how large a viewing area should be reserved for the Orioles, and thus kept off-limits to the Nationals.
The Post proposes a solution:
If Mr. Angelos is entitled to compensation, it needs to come in some other way, perhaps as a one-time payment from all of baseball. Baseball's leaders should not be cowed by Mr. Angelos's legendary litigiousness.
Not a bad idea. Not as good as closing up the "negotiations" and tell Angelos not to let the door hit him on the way out.
Angelos has no case. He has no right to the DC market, none at all. It's as though he's got a poker hand with an eight high and he's betting like he has a full house. Bud Selig and organized baseball can see his hand, it knows it has trip aces, and yet they won't take his chips.
Call his bluff, Bud. This has gone on long enough.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
27-year-old left fielder, 6-0, 185. Bats and throws left. Career BA .269, OBP .336, SLG .462, 15 HR, 62 RBI in one major-league season.
The organization’s minor league player of the year in ’03, he struggled early last year, but found his groove as the year progressed.
Handed an everyday role in the outfield after his stellar 2003 performance in the minors, Sledge started the season 1 for 34 and emerged from April with a .122 batting average. In May, he was fined for a strange incident in which an umpire complained after Sledge threw a bat near him after popping up. Coincidently, it was right around that time that he started to find his stride at the plate. From May on he hit .284 and started to live up to the hype.
To continue his improvement, Sledge needs to hit with more power; 15 homers out of your left fielder isn’t going to cut it. As he progressed in the minors, he backed off the plate and was pulling the ball with authority. He needs to learn to do that in the bigs. With even a modest improvement in power Sledge should earn the opportunity to play every day.
Another route to regular playing time for Sledge could be through the leadoff spot in the lineup. While he’s not the classic, old-school leadoff hitter he’s fast enough. His OBP would have to improve some for him to be truly effective there but he did have two seasons in the minors where his OBP was near .400, so there is a prospect that it could get better.
In the field, he’ll worry more about being in a position to field the ball on the hop rather than about going all-out to make the diving catch. The net result will be more singles for the other team but fewer extra-base hits and errors.
There is something of a cloud surrounding Sledge. In October of 1993, while trying out for the US Olympic baseball team, he tested positive for steroids. As the test came in the context of international competition there were no sanctions from baseball at the time.
At 27, Sledge is getting a bit too old to be considered a prospect. Should he show the expected improvement from his rookie year to 2005, he will be a big plus in the lineup for the Nationals. Even if he levels off at his post-May ’04 numbers it will be hard to keep him off the field.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: .250 BA, 10 HR, 50 RBI
Upside: .280 BA, 20 HR, 80 RBI
To find Terrmel Sledge’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/s/sledgte01.shtml
To find previous player profiles in the “Who Are These Guys?” series introducing you to your new Washington Nationals, visit the Capitol Dugout home page at CapitolDugout.com and search for “Nationals”.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Bottom First: Chavez strikes out swinging on a pitch way low and outside. No sign of the "new" Chavez. The Guzmam strokes one to center for a single is erased on an innning-ending double play by Vidro.
Top Second: Armas a bit wild high, but a leadoff walk doesn't cost anything as he gets a high flyout, a soft liner to second, and a bouncer to short.
Probably the last inning for Armas. He got out of two innings with nothing being hit hard against him, two K's, a successful first outing.
Bottom Second: Glavine plunks Guillen. Robinson does not replace him with a pinch runner. Perhaps he should have as he's easily picked off of first base by Glavine.
Castilla gets an infield hit and but Johnson bounces into a force at second to end the inning. Washington baseball is still scoreless after 33 years plus two innings.
Top Third: Mike Hinckley looks funny out there. He throws with the wrong hand, his left one. I didn't think such players were allowed on this team.
Virdo looked pretty smooth and confident gliding to his left to gather up a grounder. The next play he looked a bit akward on a ball hit straight to him. Remember, this is a guy who hasn't played since August and coming off of major knee surgery.
A couple of hard-hit balls off of Hinckley, one up the middle for a base hit by Reyes and the other a hard line drive right at Wilkerson by Matsui.
Bottom Third: Hinckley bats, gets a few good hacks at the ball before striking out on a 2-2 pitch.
Matsui makes his second nice play of the inning by charging and short-hopping a bouncer to throw out Chavez. I can see what Bowden was talking about with Chavez taking too long to get out of the box. He was thrown out by a few steps and with his speed it seemed like it should have been much closer.
Top Fourth: Beltran nearly takes Hinckley's head off with a line drive up the middle. The pitcher was torn between self defense and trying to make the play for a fraction of a second before deciding to watch it go by.
Hinckley then issues a walk on four pitches and a run-scoring single. Chavez displays a pretty good arm in an attempt to get the runner at third after a fly ball for the first out.
Hinckley showed his nerves a bit when he made a poor throw on a comebacker that should have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, everyone was safe and the Mets scored their second run. He rushed the throw, violating the cardinal rule of making sure you get at least one out. They'll make sure that he fields plenty of short grounders in practice over the next week or so.
After two runs were in, Hinckley did work his way out of a bases-loaded with one out situation with a strikeout and a soft fly to left.
Bottom Fourth: With one out Vidro gets a solid base hit and then Guillen gets one that's low and away and muscles it over the fence just to the right of center with plenty to spare to tie it up at two.
Top Fifth: Chavez flat out drops a fly ball by Matsui. Fortunately, Matsui stumbled rounding second and it wound up being just a two-base error.
The 6-11 John Rauch now pitching and is victimized by Jeffrey Hammonds misplaing a line drive hit right at him into a double to the left-field wall. That's a good way for a non-roster player to ensure that he stays there.
Robinson had the headset on to do an quick interview and, a couple of innings later, he still had the headset on and was listening in to the announcers. When asked if that was still Chavez out ther in center (who made the error), Robinson responded "I guess so." It was kind of like hearing Bobby Bowden on the sideline at a Florida State football game.
Chavez nearly misplays a liner, but recovers for the third out. For a guy who is supposed to be one of the strong points of the defense, he has some work to do.
Bottom Fifth: Nick Johnson looks like a ballplayer. For a fairly big guy he's reasonably graceful and just looks sharp standing up there at the plate.
Keith Osik hits a low pitch over the left field fence to tie it up.
Carlos Baerga is wearing #77, not a good sign for making the team. Escobar's is in the 40's, so his shot would seem much better.
Top Sixth: Tucker with a nice 1-2-3 effort.
Bottom Sixth: No regulars are left in the lineup for the Nats. It's getting very difficult to know who's doing what as the announcers are chatting on about the teams and about baseball in general and they aren't telling you who's at bat or in the field. Somebody struck out looking, I have no idea who.
Classic hit and run executed by Terrmel Sledge (they did tell us who he was), slapping the ball through the hole vacated by the shortstop when Jamie Carroll, who had walked, broke for second. Carroll scores on Hammonds' gound ball that went to the outifield. Not sure if it's a hit or error on the third baseman as they were interviewing Guillen in the dugout.
It's an error, they just told us.
First arguement by Frank Robinson. A popup just off the infield grass to right falls to the ground with runners on first and second and one out. The umpire, though, involks the infield fly rule and the batter is out. With a tough sun and due to the fact that no field ever got into position to field it, that was a questionable decision. The key word in the rule is that the play on the ball must be "routine" and clearly this was not. Frank went out and argued the call, but, of course, it was to no avail.
Top Seventh: Gary Majewski has a solid inning, throwing some 90 MPH heat.
Bottom Seventh: 1-2-3 for the Nats
At this point, I will abandon the inning by inning tracking and just pipe in if anything of interest happens.
Now, if this was a regular-season game, this would be a classic setup. With a one-run lead, Majewski works the seventh, Ayalah the eighth, the Nats get an insurance run in the bottom and Chad Cordero comes in to try to nail it down in the ninth.
Cordero strikes out one swinging, the next looking, and got the last one swinging. The last strike was dropped, but the throw to first wrapped up a 5-3 Nationals win.
The heck with it. No poet am I. It’s time to Play Ball!
The Nationals take the field for the first time today in a game that doesn’t count and will soon be forgotten. But, for today, it’s baseball played by a team that calls Washington home and that’s all that matters.
All eight of the projected regulars will start and get one or two at bats and pitcher Tony Armas will go the first two innings.
For a team that lost 94 games last year, the lineup is surprisingly set with the only battle being Endy Chavez against, well, Endy Chavez. Yesterday in an interview on a Washington area radio station, general Manager Jim Bowden called Chavez out.
His numbers are not good enough to win at this level. When someone’s done something two years, you don’t give him a free ride the third. . .He knows he has to adjust. . .We’re not going to put up with it, he has to change.
A few days ago in the Washington Post beat writer Barry “I’d like to buy a vowel, Alex” Svlurga went into more detail as to exactly what Chavez needs to improve upon.
Last year, he couldn't hold onto the leadoff spot -- one he acquiesced to Wilkerson -- because he walked just 30 times in 547 plate appearances, a horrific rate. He hit .277 and stole 32 bases, but it hardly mattered, because his on-base percentage was just .318, including an unforgivable .291 when batting first. The result: He scored just 65 runs. This year, the goal has been clearly stated. The Nationals want Chavez to score 100 times. Doesn't matter how. Just think that way. Make it happen.
It seems that hitting coach Tom McGraw likes to preach old-school techniques when it comes to batting. Perhaps it would help if he made a challenge that a hitting coach made to a hitter with problems taking pitches like Chavez does. It was many years ago and I can’t remember the names of the player or coach, but it doesn’t matter.
The batter would hack at anything within the same zip code as the strike zone, as does Chavez. The coach made a deal with the player. Every time the player swung and missed at a pitch, he would have to pay the coach $10 and every time the player took a strike the coach would pay the ten spot back to the player. They would settle up weekly and it served as an incentive to the player to be more selective.
Today, of course, these guys are playing for more than $14,000 a year so the stakes would have to be increased to $100 or so. If every time that Endy swings and misses there is somewhere in the back of his mind that he just cost himself $100 he just might be inclined to take a few more pitches. Threats to his job and moving him down in the order don’t seem to have served as sufficient incentive to get Chavez to be more patient. Maybe a little pocket money is the carrot that will do the trick. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
Last week, when told he needed to work on getting on base more he took bunting practice. No, Endy, we’re not looking for a half dozen more bunt hits, although it would behoove you to get out of the box more quickly so that you can take advantage of your speed and beat out a few more infield hits. No, you need to draw more walks, a lot more, like 50 more. Pitchers need to know that they have to do better than throw in the same neighborhood as the plate is in to get you out. Make them work.
The problem is that the threats to Chavez’ job security have a somewhat hollow ring to them. The alternatives are not quite as unattractive as having an out-making maniac at the top of the lineup, but they’re not very good, either. The current Plan B is to have Brad Wilkerson, a great defensive left fielder, move over to center, where he’s s bit better than adequate, and put Terrmel Sledge in left. Sledge isn’t a hack in the field, but he’s average at best.
In addition to the defensive problems, there is the question of the alternative to Chavez at the top of the order. Christian Guzman, who has good speed, has numbers remarkably similar to those of Chavez. Wilkerson has the requisite OBP but his power is wasted in the leadoff spot. There has been some speculation that at some point prospect J. J. Davis might get a crack at the leadoff spot, but that would be almost a desperation move.
But desperation can wait for August. Today, it’s Batter Up!
Livan will be the Next Big Thing in DC
Livan Hernandez’s Vitals
30 year old right handed starting pitcher, 6-2, 245. Career W-L 95-94, ERA 4.13, 1181 K’s 581 BB’s. Has also played for Florida and San Francisco
Clearly the staff’s ace, he will produce 250 innings of quality pitching in 2005.
The word “endurance” does not instantly come to mind when looking at the rather rotund physique of Livan Hernandez, but there was no more durable pitcher in baseball in 2004. In fact, that’s been the case for the past seven seasons. Since 1998 he’s been in the NL’s top 10 in both complete games and innings pitched. He’s getting stronger, topping the NL charts in both of those categories in each of the past two years. Last year he threw 3,926 pitches in 2004, the most in the National League by over 200.
Of course, to throw that many pitches and that many innings, you not only have to be durable, you have to be pretty good. His 11-15 record last year was dragged down considerably by the team’s dismal overall performance and by the sixth-worst run support in the major leagues. Certainly he deserved better with his ERA of 3.60.
As one would expect from such a prodigious inning eater, Hernandez’ game is finesse rather than power. His fastball tops out in the high 80’s and he throws that and a slow curve, slider, and change up with the same smooth motion. Like most finesse-type pitchers, he needs to pitch inside to be effective and he doesn’t have much of a margin for error. If his pitches wander towards the middle part of the plate, look out.
As if his prowess on the mound wasn’t enough, Hernandez is also pretty good at the plate. Good enough, in fact, to be voted as the NL’s 2004 Silver Slugger award as the league’s top hitter at his position. Now, the “slugger” part might be something of a stretch since he hit just one home run. He did, though, hit .247 with seven doubles. When called upon to bunt he was also adept there, laying down 15 sacrifice bunts.
Perhaps it’s a stretch to call him a five-tool player, but Hernandez can also field his position with the best of them. His range factor says that he fields an average of about one more ball per game than the average NL pitcher. That’s fairly significant, especially considering that he made just two errors last year.
Just one more reason why a Nationals fan should be delighted to have Hernandez on the team; should the team defy the odds and reach the playoffs, it has an accomplished postseason ace. In 1997, he pulled off the rare double of being named the MVP in both the NLCS and the World Series for the Florida Marlins.
Not to go overboard here, but the view here is that Livan Herndandez will be the Next Big Thing in Washington. Just as in the early 1970's everyone in town, sports fan or not, knew who Billy and Sonny were by their first names, everyone all around the Beltway and beyond will know who Livan is.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: 16-10, 3.50 ERA
Upside: 12-16, 4.25 ERA
To find Livan Hernandez’ career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/h/hernali01.shtml
To find previous player profiles in the “Who Are These Guys?” series introducing you to your new Washington Nationals, visit the Capitol Dugout home page at CapitolDugout.com and search for “Nationals”.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Jose Vidro’s Vitals
Second baseman, 30, 5-11, 193. Switch hitter, throws right. Career BA .304, OBP .367, SLG .470, 101 HR, 471 RBI in 8 seasons.
A three-time All-Star second baseman who is a perennial .300 hitter. An injury cloud is over his head.
For the past six seasons, Vidro has been the one consistently good bat in the franchise’s lineup. A homegrown talent, he was inserted into the every day lineup in 1999 and responded with a .304 average. That started a string of five straight seasons where he hit .300 or better with a peak of .330 in 2000. That string ended last year when he hit .294. His season ended prematurely as he had season-ending surgery for tendonitis in his right knee. He can display a decent amount of power, smacking line drives into the alleys from both sides of the plate when he’s on.
Behind the batting average, the numbers are not bad, but not particularly impressive either. He has become more patient at the plate over the past several seasons, increasing his walks and cutting down on his strikeouts. Still, his OBA hovers right around where you would expect that of a low-.300’s hitter to be, no better, no worse. As his strikeouts have declined, his power has, too. After a high of 24 home runs in 2000, he hit just 15 and 14 in the past two years.
Vidro is considerably more plodding than you would generally expect a second baseman to be; in his career he has stolen 20 bases and has been thrown out 15 times. This is a guy you don’t even want to see leaning hard off of first base, much less taking a big lead.
His lack of speed makes him something of a liability in the field. While he has a good arm that allows him to play a little deeper than most he still fails to get to a lot of balls that the average second baseman. Over the past two seasons, in fact, looking at the range factor data presented at Baseball-Reference.com (see link below), over the last two seasons Vidro got to about .5 fewer balls per game than the league’s average second baseman. That means that if Vidro plays in 140 games, 70 balls that the average second baseman would have fielded will get by Vidro. Playing more on the RFK Stadium grass rather than the Olympic Stadium rug will almost certainly help this average, but remember that the Expos played just 59 home games in Montreal, the rest on the grass in Puerto Rico. This will help some, but he’s still likely to be a negative in the field
Vidro’s progress from the knee surgery—which was similar to the kind that essentially marked the end of the career of former Expo Fernando Tatis and that of an older Mark McGwire—has been promising so far. He has been able to perform all baseball functions relatively free of pain so far in spring training.
Of course, spring training is not the regular season, where the grind of playing inning after inning, game after game, week after week can wear down the body, especially surgically repaired joints. It remains to be seen how Vidro’s knee will hold up to that pounding. This is another instance where playing on grass rather than Olympic Stadium’s rug will help, but it remains to be seen how much.
In a move that was rather stunning for a team with no owner and a very unsettled location situation, Vidro was signed to a four-year, $30 million contract extension last May, a deal that kicks in this year. At the time, the deal was thought to be a home-town discount, Virdo’s way of saying thanks to and being loyal to the organization that has brought him along in the big leagues. A more cynical view now would indicate that perhaps he wanted to get a contract signed prior to having the surgery for his tendonitis.
Even if the Nationals’ payroll climbs to the level near those of the major markets, that’s still a lot of money to have tied up in a player coming off of such surgery. One thing that new fans of the team have learned quickly is that they need to hope for the good health of several key players. Vidro is on the top of the list.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: .290 BA, 12 HR, 50 RBI
Upside: .320 BA, 19 HR, 75 RBI
To find Jose Vidro’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/v/vidrojo01.shtml
Friday, February 25, 2005
Brian Schneider is a young catcher who “is still learning about handling pitchers” according to Myles. He got too much experience last year, she said. In catching over 130 games, he “started to wear down. Hopefully, they will have more confidence in his backup.
His strength that led to him throwing out some 46% of opposing base runners attempting to steal last year? “He’s very accurate, although he doesn’t have a gun for an arm. He puts the ball right where it needs to be.” Myles added that we shouldn’t ignore the other part of the equation when it comes to nailing potential base thieves: “It was a cooperative effort. The pitching staff did a very good job of holding runners on. It’s something that the work on a lot and they were very effective at it.”
Despite his relative lack of experience, Schneider has served as the team’s player rep for the past couple of seasons. “Nobody ever wants that job,” said Myles, “but on this team it was worse. He had to deal with the moving issue, with the playing in Puerto Rico issue, having to play there anyway after (the team) had voted no.”
That side job and his position on the field have helped him become one of the team’s leaders. Although Myles doesn’t think that leadership in the traditional sense is as critical in baseball as it used to be—“The way modern baseball is, there really isn’t the guy who’s going to stand up in the clubhouse and give the guys a bunch of crap when they’re not playing well”—she thinks that Schneider and Livan Hernandez fill the bill on this ball club.
“As Livan has grown into a veteran player, he takes his role more seriously. He’s one of the smarter players on the team. When the club started to acquire some more Latinos, especially pitchers, he stepped up and was great at taking them under his wing.”
The number one thing that has been gathered from this perspective after talking to people who have followed the Expos closely over the past few years is that Livan will be something special to watch. “He’s a great athlete,” said Myles.
About the optimism expressed about the health of the likes of Tony Armas, Zach Day, and others who spent so much of 2004 on the disabled list, Myles cautioned fans that they should be, well, cautious. “Last spring it seemed like everyone was fine at this point, too, But you have to realize that they haven’t done a thing yet.” Most baseball injuries either occur or recur because of the cumulative effect of playing inning after inning, day after day, week after week.
Among the players on the injury watch is second baseman Vidro. According to Myles, the type of knee surgery he had—if you’re squeamish skip to the next paragraph—involved cutting the patellar tendon in half and then scraping away some junk that has developed in the knee.
“Fernando Tatis (former Expos third baseman) had that surgery and essentially was done. He tried to come back afterwards, but couldn’t. Mark McGwire has the same surgery and it pretty much ended his career.”
This has to be of concern when you’re talking about a player who just signed a four-year, $30 million contract extension last May. Vidro was widely praised then for giving the Expos, the only major-league team he’s played for in his seven-year career, a “hometown discount”. Myles suspects that his signing the extension may have been driven in part by his loyalty to the team, but also in part to the fact that he knew he would need to have this particularly invasive surgery to treat the tendonitis in his knee.
Vidro is among about a half a dozen players whose positions in the field and in the batting order are pretty well set—he’ll play second and bat third. Terrmel Sledge does not enjoy similar security but he’s still hoping for a spot in the everyday lineup. His “problem”, in Myles’ view, is that he does many things pretty well but nothing exceptionally well.
“He hits the ball well but has some weaknesses at the plate. He has some power but not a lot. He’s a good outfielder but not a great one and he has some speed but he’s not much of a stolen base threat.” That his manager has confidence in him, according to Myles, will go a long ways towards his success.
Overall, Myles thinks, the team will be very good defensively if Brad Wilkerson plays every day in left field, Vidro’s knee is OK, Endy Chavez is in center and Nick Johnson is at first, a lot of “if’s” she admits. Should this work out, “The pitchers can be confident to let the hitters hit the ball, knowing it'll be caught, and therefore can be more aggressive.”
When asked about potential first-time All-Stars on the team, Myles said that Wilkerson was a possibility “if he plays left field every day” as was Tony Armas “if he’s healthy”.
It’s likely that all of the “if’s” and “maybe’s” surrounding this team have prompted Myles say, “I am done in the prognostication business.” Still, she thinks that while the division is tough, the other teams “will have injuries and underachievers too.” Four out of the five teams in the division will finish at over .500, Myles said.
“I just won’t tell you which ones.”
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Endy Chavez’ Vitals
Center fielder, 27 years old, 5-10, 189. Bats and throws left. Career .264 BA, .303 OBA, .364 SA, 11 HR, 95 RBI, 53 SB in four seasons. Also played briefly with Kansas City.
A speedy slap hitter, he would be the ideal leadoff man except for one thing—he doesn’t get on base enough.
Chavez had the leadoff spot to himself for most of 2003 and was, in the words of the Baseball Prospectus, “an out-making machine”. He accounted for 388 outs that year including the eight double plays he grounded in to and the seven times he was caught stealing. The number of rallies he killed or failed to get started with his .294 OBA is incalculable.
Last year, although he did increase his outs total to 390, he improved his OBA to a slightly less awful .318 and showed more patience at the plate, cutting his strikeouts by a third, from 59 to 40. Most of this improvement came after he dropped to the second spot in the order and had Brad Wilkerson in front of him. This year, apparently, the leadoff spot is his to lose, as Frank Robinson wants to drop Wilkerson down in the order to take advantage of his power. If Chavez can add the same 24 points to his OBA that he added from 2003 to 2004 and keeps his strikeouts down, he can be a replacement-level leadoff man.
If he can do that, he’ll turn himself from a liability into an asset. While he occasionally makes mistakes in the field, he can make up for them with his speed. His arm was good enough for to get nine assists in each of the last two seasons, a solid number for a center fielder. He had 32 steals and got caught just seven times last year, a performance good enough to make opposing pitchers pay plenty of attention to him when he does reach first base.
Like a number of the team’s players, Chavez is reaching the age where his career will be defined. At 27, a player is supposed to be peaking and that would seem to go double for a player who relies on speed as Chavez does. He has had two seasons of full-time play in the majors. If he improves as he did from year one to year two, a string of years with seven-figure incomes is in his future. Should his play level off or regress to the ’03 level, phrases such as “non-roster invitation” and “minor-league contract” will be next to his name in the transaction reports when he reaches 30.
The key is improving his patience at the plate. If he takes more pitches, those big numbers are in his future. Should he continue to hack away, the latter scenario will come to pass.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: .245 BA, .290 OBA, 20 steals
Upside: .285 BA, .340 OBA, 45 steals
To find Endy Chavez’ career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/chaveen01.shtml
Saturday, February 19, 2005
In remarks to reporters this week, Robinson spoke about what might happen to his spot on the all-time home run list. He was fourth behind Aaron, Ruth and Mays with 586 until Barry Bonds passed him last season. Sammy Sosa starts the season just a dozen dingers behind him and Rafael Palmero could pass him in 2006.
'Probably before I take my last breath, I'm going to be about 99th on the list, Robinson told the assembled media at the team's Viera, Fla., training camp on Friday. 'And I'm afraid people are going to say 'Frank Who?' It's going to be such huge numbers up there at the top. They're going to say, 'You must have been a singles hitter who hit a few home runs.' That's the thing that's going to happen to this game."The context of the comments was, of course, steroid use and Jose Canseco's recent book pointing fingers and naming names, including Palmero's. Like many, Robinson tends to believe much of what Canseco wrote:
What he's doing now is saying that steroids are happening. Canseco is also putting the spotlight on guys, who are still playing and performing very well. Baseball and the Players Association have to dig in and say, 'Let's get at this thing before it explodes.'Well, it's a little late for that; the bomb has already gone off.
Back to his place in the game's history, Robinson came off as, well, a bit whiny when he said:
I wish I had stayed fourth. It's a nice ring to it. You're up there with the elite. You're up there with the top guys in baseball, but as you slip people have a tendency to ignore you or forget about you. It's not a nice ring, 11th or 12th. Fourth. Fourth, Fourth. I kind of got used to that. And now fifth, it just sounds a little odd.Presumably, he's lamenting that he played it straight, did everything the right way and didn't need to be juiced to hit his 586 and now players with 'roid-created bulging muscles are pushing him down the list.
Not to worry, Frank.
First of all, you're not going to be pushed down to 99th on the list, not even 11th or 12th. Besides Sosa and Palmero, the only active player with over 500 home runs is Ken Griffy Jr. at 501. Even though he's 34 his chances of hitting 587 are about 50/50 given his injury history and recent performance. After that, Jim Thome (33 years old, 423 HR) and Gary Sheffield (35 and 415) have a shot and A-Rod could eventually surpass everyone. Robinson's status in the top 10 is secure for quite some time to come.
And I think that Frank Robinson knows baseball fans a little better than to think that they're not going to take the steriods and the smaller ballparks that today's game is played in into consideration when they're gauging his place in history. The Triple Crown in 1966, the .389 lifetime OBP, the five World Series he played in and the eight home runs he hit in them, the two MVP's--one in each league--and the hustle and effort he gave on the field will place him in the pantheon of the greats no matter how many players hit more dingers.
Friday, February 18, 2005
It's on the front page at CapitolDugout.com
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
The health of Tony Armas' right arm
is critical to the Nats' success.
Tony Armas’ Vitals
26-year-old right-handed starting pitcher, bats right, seventh season, 6-3, 225, career W-L 32-41, ERA 4.21
Perhaps the poster child for the recent Expos—great potential unseen due to a string of injuries.
Armas was shaping up to be a quality big-league pitcher in 2001-2002. After working his way into the regular rotation following his acquisition by the Expos as the “player to be named later” in the Pedro Martinez trade, Armas pitched better for the 68-94 Expos than his 9-14 record would indicate. He posted a 4.03 ERA and struck out nearly twice as many has he walked. The next year his ERA rose to 4.44 but his W-L improved to 12-12 (the team was also much better at 83-79). For the two years combined teams batted just .245 against Armas and he appeared to be on his way to a nice career.
After only five 2003 starts, however, he woke up with pain in his shoulder the day after allowing four home runs in a game in San Juan. That wiped out the rest of that season and, along with a line drive he took to the shin, kept him on the shelf for the beginning and end of last year.
When he was effective, he featured a mean 90 MPH sinking fastball, inducing a lot of meekly-hit ground balls, and had good command of a fastball, slider, and curve as well. He doesn’t have great control, throwing 14 wild pitches in his last full season and he throws 92 pitches a start despite the fact that his starts average less than 5 2/3 innings. Still, his K’s to walks for his career is 1.62, not a great number but not horrible, either.
If the name sounds familiar from the past, that’s because his father, also named Tony Armas, was a slugging outfield for the A’s and Red Sox who twice led the AL in home runs. Scouting reports often credit him with having great baseball instincts and, no doubt, his heredity had something to do with that.
The Nationals are hoping that Armas is past his arm problems and is able to eat up innings and throw a lot of inning-ending double plays and win a dozen or more games. Reports indicate that he’s fully recovered. That sounds like good news for the team, but most will wait until, say July before fully believing it.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: 2-4, 5.25 ERA, 85 IP
Upside: 16-12, 3.90 ERA, 200 IP
Note: Normally, injuries are not considered in “Down and Up”, but in Armas’ case his health is everything. Based on history, if he pitches he’ll be effective.
To find Tony Armas' career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://baseball-reference.com/a/armasto02.shtml
Saturday, February 12, 2005
It's getting down to crunch time.
The Washington Nationals' move from Montreal, with its on again, off again nature, is nearly complete. Or, perhaps more accurately, it's at the point where it has to be complete. Ready or not, pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday and the home opener against Arizona is two months and two days away.
It won't be a miracle if they pull it off, according to club president Tony Tavares, who was quoted in an AP article:
What will be a miracle is if I make it to opening day without assaulting a lawyer.If he does get into physical barrister bashing, he might want to start with Orioles' owner Peter Angelos, a trial lawyer by trade. His negotiations with baseball about what he's owed for a team coming into a territory that he doesn't have the rights to are continuing along at a snail's pace. MLB is taking Angelos' threats to hold his breath until he turns blue very seriously. From a Washington Times story that said that MLB "hopeful" about getting a deal with Angelos soon:
MLB president Bob DuPuy said yesterday he "hopes we are getting close to a conceptual understanding. Recent discussions have been productive.""Hope", "close", "conceptual", "productive"--the next word I want to hear about this whole thing is "done".
Being held hostage to Angelos' threats to do what he does best, sue, are two elements critical to getting the Washington franchise off the ground. One is the establishment of a TV network. As of right now, the only Nats games that are scheduled to be televised in DC are about a half a dozen scheduled on ESPN and Fox. Angelos is the hold up in the deal. According to a story in the Washington Examiner:
A schedule and the amount of games is being worked on, as well as how the geographic regions will break down. Basically, where Nationals games can be shown and where we can see the O's. Once a final schedule is finalized, Mr. Angelos will O.K. the regional breakdown, and the Nats will have a TV deal.Why does this have to be that complicated? Any Maryland counties that border on DC are the Nats', the rest of the Free State is Angelos'. Oh, you think he might be holding out for, say, Montgomery County, huh? Hmmmm. . .
This is only a one-year deal because part of the compensation package between MLB and the O's is a new regional sports network that will broadcast the Nationals and Orioles games. The cable partner would most likely be Comcast, the parent company of Comcast SportsNet, since they have the distribution that it will take to make the network profitable.
Things are very, very early in the game as this deal gets worked out in hopes of having something in place for opening day.
The other thing that Angelos is messing up is the ownership of the team itself. No potential bidder is going to place a firm offer without knowing exactly how much of the potential profitability the leech Angelos will succeed in sucking out of the Nationals. Quite simply, the ownership question won't be settled until the Angelos question is answered.
The sad fact of the matter is that every day that this drags on is a victory for Angelos. A TV deal slapped together at the last minute will not be nearly as profitable as it could be. And the lack of an owner keeps the Washington franchise rudderless, run by that club of 29 weasels that counts Angelos as one of its mebers.
On the plus side, the winter weather has been reasonably kind to those scrambling to put RFK Stadium back into baseball shape. It will still be a scramble, but they are on pace with their hectic, breakneck schedule to get it done for the April 3 exhibition shakedown cruise and the opener 11 days later.
That's but one item on Tavares' 65-item to do list. He listed some of the others:
Locking down our budgets for game-day staff, deciding on how many ushers, how many ticket-takers, how many security guards. Who's the cleaning contract? Who's the parking contract? The concession deal? It's tedious kind of things, like getting our tax ID locally.Good luck, Mr. Tavares. If there's anything we can do, like go downtown and wait in those pesky lines to get that pesky tax ID, just let us know.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Chad Cordero nails it down
Chad Cordero’s Vitals
Right-handed relief pitcher, 23, 6-0, 195. Career 8-3, ERA 2.79, 15 Saves in two seasons.
He grabbed on to the team’s closer role last June and everyone is hoping that he doesn’t let go of it for the next several years.
This guy could be something special.
Cordero has excellent command of his fastball and he’s able to use it effectively to set up his out pitch, the slider. Right handers batted .205 against him last year, able to do little against his fastball other than foul it off. He was incredible in September, posting an ERA of 0.60 in 11 appearances, fanning 16 batters and allowing just 12 hits in 15 innings.
He’s a promising piece of work, but he’s still a work in progress. Last year he gave up eight home runs, far more than you like to see from your closer. Many of them came when he lost his fastball up in the zone trying to set up the slider. That finesse and touch should come with experience.
Even after Cordero became the closer, Frank Robinson wasn’t afraid to use him on roles other than that of the traditional closer. He pitched two or more innings on 15 occasions, including a three-inning stint where he emerged with the win in a 14-inning game against the Phillies. Cordero also made numerous appearances when the Expos were behind. Given the paucity of save opportunities for the Expos last year, Cordero would have collected a lot of rust in between those appearances, so it made sense for Robinson to give him the work.
Should he repeat, let alone improve, on his 2004 performance, the team—which should have a real owner in place in the fall—should look seriously at locking him up for the rest of the decade.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: 3-6, 25 SV, 3.75 ERA
Upside: 6-4, 38 SV, 2.35 ERA
To find Chad Cordero’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/cordech01.shtml
To find previous player profiles in the “Who Are These Guys?” series introducing you to your new Washington Nationals, visit the Capitol Dugout home page at CapitolDugout.com and search for “Nationals” or check this blog's archives.
Monday, February 07, 2005
I don't think that it's reading too much into this to think that the CC deal with the Nats is all but sunk.
Zach Day is one of the keys
to the Nats' season
Zach Day’s Vitals
Right-handed starting pitcher, 27, 6-4, 216, bats R. Career 18-19, 4.01 ERA. In his fourth season.
A sinkerball pitcher who can dominate if the ball sinks. If not, it’s a home run derby.
Zach Day Rundown
Day was having a breakthrough season for the Expos two years ago before a series of odd incidents—getting tossed from a game for a foreign substance on his pitching hand (it turned out to be Super Glue he’s put on a blister on his finger), a cyst on his right kneecap, and a torn rotator cuff caused by a collision at first base—derailed it. Then last year he got off to a good start before going on the DL with tendonitis and, after recovering from that, with a broken finger suffered in a bunt attempt. If you’re at spring training, he should be easy to recognize; look for the guy who’s laying down dozens of bunts a day to improve his technique.
When he was on the field last year, he was much more impressive than his 5-10 record would suggest. His run support was dead last in the majors last year at 2.47 runs per game. And he’ll be glad to bid farewell to Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico; his ERA there was a hefty 6.52.
He’s a classic sinkerball pitcher, yielding twice as many ground balls as fly balls. Look for the RFK groundskeeper to set the mower blade a bit higher and water down the dirt in front of home plate a little longer when Day is the scheduled starter.
He walked about 3.5 batters per nine innings last year, an acceptable number if he gets enough batters to erase the runners by grounding into double plays. It’s a problem, though, if he gives up too many flies over the fence. He gave up a homer every nine innings last year, not terrible but up from the previous season. If that trend continues, he’ll be in trouble.
One thing that Day is known for is being a quick worker. If you’re thinking about catching a game one night but you’re worried about being out too late, look to see if Day’s the starter. If he is, and he goes deep into the game, you should be home in plenty of time to catch the 11 o’clock news.
Zach Day is one of the keys to the Nats’ season. If he’s effective in his role as the third starter, the rotation will should round into a decent one. However, too much time for Day on the DL, or if he throws his sinker up in the strike zone or can’t find the strike zone with his curve, there will be a big hole in the middle of the rotation. The Nationals simply don’t have enough pitching depth to succeed under those circumstances.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: 8-13, 4.95 ERA
Upside: 15-10, 3.75 ERA
To find Zach Day’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/d/dayza01.shtml
Thursday, February 03, 2005
How Close to Getting Sosa?
The headline in the Post was intriguing, as was Jose Guillen's comment. From an artile entitled Nationals Balked at Proposed Sosa Deal:
'He was pretty close' to coming to Washington, said Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen, a close friend who has spoken to Sosa frequently in recent weeks. 'It just came down to his decision, Baltimore or Washington. We almost got him, but he just decided to go over there.'Well, it depends on what you mean by "almost". If you went to you local Hummer dealer and offered $25,000 for a loaded H2, I suppose you could say that you "amost" bought the vehicle. According to general manager Jim Bowden:
I said all along, if [the Cubs] will pay his entire salary and we can make a deal without giving up our core young players, we'd like to have Sammy Sosa, That's what we tried to do. We were never able to make a deal.Club president Tony Tavares went even further, saying that talks with the Cubs never even got to the point of a counterproposal by Washington.
Considered in isolation, getting Sosa would have been a positive move for the Nats. He would have given the franchise two things it lacks in DC right now, an name and a face. Everyone knows who Sosa is and he would have sold tickets and increased the team's national profile. And he still can be a productive player.
However, such things can not be looked at without looking at the costs. Even if the Cubs had been willing to pay nearly all of Sosa's '05 salary, there would have been a cost to the Nationals in terms of compensation. According to the Post article:
Although it is unclear what players the Cubs wanted from the Nationals, it is believed the Cubs -- who need outfield help, after losing Sosa and free agent Moises Alou in the same offseason -- asked for Nationals outfielders Brad Wilkerson and/or Terrmel Sledge.To rent Sosa for perhaps a single season? This goes to show that the best deals are often the ones that you don't make.
Remember the near-death of the newly-born baseball in DC dream in early December when the DC City Council put a private-funding clause into the stadium legislation? Well, it turns out that the funding may well be there after all. From a Washington Times article:
Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, likely will certify at least two of eight offers of private financing for a new ballpark in Southeast, paving the way for the city to meet its target of funding half the hard construction costs with private money.Now, I'll believe that the DC government can pull something like this off when the legislation passes, ink is dry on the contract and the checks have cleared. If they can do it, major kudos are due. Remember, though, that the District is a jurisdiction that wouldn't let the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke build a stadium entirely with his own money.
Closer Chad Cordero, starting pitcher Zach Day, shortstop Cristian Guzman and outfielder Jose Guillen and GM Bowden appeared at the ESPN Zone in Washington to meet fans, sign autographs and try on their Nats uniforms. No news was made, other than the fact that this was the first such event that the team has sponsored.
Despite the lack of such events, commonly a part of a team's ticket-selling strategy, nearly 18,000 full season tickets have been sold. Multiply that by 81 home games and you have attendance approaching 1.5 million before any group sales, partial seaon ticket packages (they go on sale next week) or single-game tickets (those won't be available until March) have been moved. It's not hard to imagine attendance approaching the 3 million mark, perhaps a bit higher if the team has some surprising success.
This, not surprisingly, has the Orioles whining. From the Washington Times:
Even with fan favorite Sammy Sosa now on board, the Baltimore Orioles are still chafing about baseball in Washington.Matt Dryer, an Orioles advertising and promotions suit, was quoted as saying:
They've sold more than 18,000 season tickets already. That's a lot of tickets coming into this area. How many of those folks are going to stop coming to see us?The answer appears to be not many. After the addition of Sosa they sold some 5,000 new season tickets and some existing accounts were renewed. The have never drawn fewer than 2.45 million to Camden Yards and even before getting Sosa they weren't going to do much worse than last year's draw of 2.74 million. The addition of Sammy should push them near 3 million.
If the two teams do manage to draw 6 million combined, that would put their combined attendance on a par with the two New York teams.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim combined last year for 6.86 million in attendance, the New York Yankees and Mets drew 6.09 million, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's combined for 5.47 million, and the Chicago Cubs and White Sox drew 5.10 million.Of course, as we all know, the only valid comparison is San Francisco and Oakland and even that's flawed since Baltimore and Washington are separated by 40 miles of concrete, not a thousand yards or so of a bridge. Should the two teams draw anything close to what the Yankees and Mets do the diezens of baseball will be kicking themselves, wondering why they didn't make this move years ago.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Vinny Castilla’s Vitals
37-year-old third baseman, 6-1, 185. Bats and throws right. Career BA .280, OBP .324, HR 303 in his fifteenth season, salary $3.2 million.. Has also played for Atlanta , Colorado, Houston, Tampa Bay
A veteran third baseman who, while past his prime, is still a productive player who will have streaks of excellent play.
Did the Nationals get a good deal in signing Castilla?
Last year, at a salary of $2.1 million, ESPN.com called Castilla one of the five best free agent steals. Now, with a salary about $1 million higher, he could turn out to be a pretty good value for the Nats. Yes, his NL-leading 131 RBI’s in 2004 while playing for the Rockies were certainly ballpark-aided, but he still had 21 home runs and 51 RBI on the road last year. Washington would be very happy with similar production.
He’s been around for a while and seems to have bounced around some. What’s the story?
After enjoying some great seasons with the Rockies, hitting 40 or more home runs and batting in 113 or more runs each season from 1996-1998, Colorado traded him to Tampa Bay following the 1999 season. His production took a nosedive (one can think for a number of possible reasons for this, playing for the Devil Rays) and he hit just .221 with 14 walks and 41 strikeouts for the Devil Rays in 2000. He was released outright, with Tampa Bay still holding the bag for his $7.25 million contract, 24 games into 2001.
He finished up 2001 with Houston and then went to Atlanta, where he’d broken into the big leagues in 1991. After two years there, he returned to the site of his greatest glory in Denver. The Rockies showed no interest in resigning him, however, perhaps going with more of a youth movement.
What’s he like at the plate?
One would not be surprised to see his power numbers go down from 2004 (34 HR, .535 Slugging %) due to the change in ballparks and another year on the body. In fact his power numbers could decline precipitously this year and next. Of the players in baseball history who had similar career numbers through the age of 36, the only one who continued to have good pop in his bat from age 37 on was Andres Galarraga. The others, the likes of Fred Lynn, Ron Cey, and Joe Adcock, went down to homer totals of below 20 a year. Vinny might have more left in the tank than those three since conditioning has improved since they played, but expecting much over 20-25 homers is probably wishful thinking.
His patience at the plate, a bugaboo in the past, was a good news/bad news scenario last year. While a total of 51 walks is not very impressive, it’s as many has he had in the previous two seasons combined. On the other hand, his 113 strikeouts represented a career high.
I’m a little skeptical about the defensive abilities of a 37-year-old third baseman. Can he field the hot corner?
In the field, Castilla is a better than adequate third baseman. He committed just six errors in 2004 while putting up a range factor well above the league average (range factor is putouts plus assists; basically, this says that he gets to a lot of balls, so his low error total is not a result of his not getting his hands on many balls due to poor range).
So what’s the bottom line on this guy?
He’ll have the opportunity to develop as a leader on a team that is loaded with Latino players. As a semi-journeyman who is not unfamiliar with having to pull up roots and go and play in a new city, he could be very valuable in helping his teammates through such a transition. Even if he has decent production at the plate, it’s not hard to see him becoming a very popular player, the face of the Washington Nationals, for the next two seasons.
2005 Down and Up
Downside: .245 BA, 16 HR, 65 RBI
Upside: .275 BA, 29 HR, 100 RBI
To find Vinny Castilla’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/castivi02.shtml
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Nick Johnson’s Vitals
26-year-old 6-3, 224 First Baseman, bats and throws left, career BA .255, OBP .372, HR 38 in his fourth season, salary $1.25 million. Has also played for NY Yankees.
A large, lumbering first baseman who has yet to display the power or durability normally associated with such a player.
Nick Johnson probably is one of the few Nats you’ve actually seen play. He broke in with the Yankees and played in every postseason game of their 2003 run to the World Series. In an example of the circular nature of player movement in baseball, he was traded to the Expos prior to the ’04 season as part of the Javier Vasquez trade. Vazquez was traded in midseason for Esteban Loaiza, who just signed with the Nats as a free agent.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to say that Johnson lacks power as he has a career slugging percentage of .418, certainly respectable. But he hits home runs at a pace of 19 per 162 games and you want more power than that out of your first baseman.
The other issue to blame for his paltry career total of 38 homers is the injury bug. Last year he started the season on the injury list with a bad back and he ended it on the DL with a broken cheekbone. It took him until late last year, his fourth season, to accumulate 1,000 career at bats.
According to Scouts, Inc., “Johnson's calling card is his understanding of the strike zone,” but I fail to see where this notion comes from. For his career he has struck out (228) 40% more often than he has walked (165). That’s not very impressive given his home run number.
Still, Johnson has the possibility of becoming a valuable member of the Nats if (all together now) he can stay healthy. He’s a decent fielder with good range. His OBP makes him a good fit near the top of the order, perhaps in the #2 spot. At 26, he’s approaching what should be his prime and perhaps the Nats will benefit from such a development.
Or perhaps not. There has been talk of dealing Johnson for either prospects or a pitcher. Even if the is still wearing a Nats uniform when the season starts, he’ll likely be a topic of discussion as the July 31 trading deadline approaches (assuming, of course, that the Nationals aren’t in serious playoff contention).
2005 Down and Up
Downside: .255 BA, 16 HR, 40 RBI
Upside: .290 BA, 22 HR, 70 RBI
To find Nick Johnson’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/j/johnsni01.shtml
Friday, January 21, 2005
What, then, to make of the Washington Nationals' temporary home, RFK Stadium, the UFO-like edifice on the outskirts of Capitol Hill that went 33 seasons without housing a baseball team? Will it be a pitcher's park? A hitter's park?Reporter Barry Svrluga's analysis is not exactly in-depth; he bases his case that it will be neutral on the fact that it's symmetrical and from comments by some old Senators.
"It's neither (a hitter's or pitcher's park)," said former Washington Senators pitcher Jim Hannan. "It's fair."And from the hitter's perspective:
"If you look at your multi-purpose stadiums, they're all kind of nondescript," said Frank Howard, the Senators' power-hitting outfielder from 1965 to 1971. "It's not like Fenway Park, with the left field wall. It's not like the Polo Grounds, with that deep center field. It's not like Yankee Stadium, with the graveyard out there. It was a dual-purpose stadium, and it was fair. I thought the ball didn't carry very well at night -- it was a better park to hit in during the day -- but that's about it."OK, so about 70 of the Nats' 82 home games will be played at night, when the ball doesn't carry very well in the humid air that hangs in Washington on summer evenings. The air alone would seem to favor the pitching.
Then there are the stadium dimensions which, as mentioned, are symmetrical --336' down the lines, 369' to the power alleys and 410' to center. To Svrluga and Hannah this apparently guarantees pitcher-hitter neutrality:
Those dimensions don't particularly favor offense or defense. In the 10 seasons the Senators played at the stadium, they averaged almost an identical number of runs at home as on the road -- 3.61 to 3.63, respectively.
"It was fair to both pitchers and hitters," Hannan said. "It didn't favor right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters. You didn't have a short porch for one side."
I wouldn't put too much value in the home-road numbers the Senators II put up. The game has changed dramatically since then with more emphasis on the long ball. It remains to be seen how many long balls at RFK will become long outs. The distance of those symmetrical fences would seem to indicate that, compared to other NL ballparks, the fences at RFK are quite distant.
I got the dimensions of the 15 other NL ballaparks and, realizing that fence distance is but one factor in the hitter-or-pitcher park equation, compared the dimensions at RFK to those in the rest of the league. I'm not going to post all of the numbers here since most of the sites that this blog is syndicated to don't handle tables, but here are some comparisons:
Left Field--RFK, 336 Longest--Wrigley 355 Shortest--Minute Maid 315 Average--335
Left Power Alley--RFK, 380 Longest--Coors 390 Shortest Minute Maid 362 Average--376
Center*--RFK 410 Longest--Minute Maid 435 Shortest--Wrigley, Miller 400 Average--409
Right Power Alley--RFK 380 Longest--SBC 420 Shortest--Wrigley 368 Average--380
Right Field--RFK 336 Longest--Miller 355 Shortest--SBC 307 Average--333
*Center field distances may be slightly to left- or right-center in some ballparks; deepest distance was used for this purpose.
So, in terms of dimensions, RFK is a bit longer than the average NL park all the way around.
A very rough, crude overall measure of ballpark distance is to simply add up the five major measurements and compare that to the totals from the other parks. RFK's total distance is 1,842 (336+380+410+380+336). That's the fifth-longest in the NL. The longest is Coors Field at 1,877, certainly a warning that distance isn't everything. The shortest park by this measure is Citizens Bank in Philly at 1,798. The league average is 1,831.The longish dimensions and the heavy air will favor the pitchers.
On the other hand, foul territory will be on the small side--they're adding a couple of rows to seats reducing the distance from home plate to the backstop from about 60 feet to 53--and the 8' fence all the way around the outfield is not at all imposing.
On balance, it looks like it will favor the pitchers slightly but certainly. Not a bad idea when you look at the Nats' rotation.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Word out of the Nationals' camp last month was that they would consider dealing for Sosa only if the Cubs paid his entire 2005 commitment: a $17 million salary and a $4.5 million buyout for 2006. But Bowden has altered that stance after the Cubs told him at the winter meetings that they wouldn't accept the entire financial burden and weren't interested in dumping Sosa at any cost.Even if the Nats fail to land a future Hall of Famer for free, any deal will, of course, be all about the money.
If (Cubs GM Jim) Hendry and Bowden can find common ground, the key element will be how much Sosa is willing to accept for his 2006 salary. While Sosa's contract with the Cubs guarantees an $18million salary if he is traded, that figure can be negotiated. Agent Adam Katz is believed to have told clubs that Sosa would not play for less than $10 million in 2006.I wouldn't be so quick to insist on a bargain basement price for Sosa. Despite all his flaws--past his prime, concerned with batting order position to the detriment of the team, steriod suspiscions, etc.--he still can sell seats. The magic of his home run battle with McGwire still lingers. It's not difficult to make a case that the presence of Sosa could sell an addition 50,000 seats at home game. That's just about 625 more per game. At an average of $20 a ticket, that's $10 million in additonal revenue right there.
If Sosa really doesn't want to return for another year under Cubs manager Dusty Baker, he can help broker his exit by lowering his financial demands. He would be more attractive to other clubs at $8million for 2006
Even if the dollars are right, there will be the question of what Washington will give up in compensation. The Cubs' asking price is not likely to be very high, a combination of a few prospects and suspects. Still, you have to be very careful about having an adverse impact on the team's future for a brief bump in ticket sales and a few more wins.
Of course, with the team still being in a state of receivership rather than one of ownership, a bold stroke such as bringing in Sosa isn't likely to happen. But the position of owner has yet to be filled.
The reality is that it's probably better that Sammy Sosa is someone else's potential headache and someone else's employee to pay. Still, it would add some pizzaz to a team that desperately lacks it.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Bye, bye baby
Write if you think of it maybe
Know I love you
Go if it means that much to you
--Crosby, Stills and Nash
I’ll never forget the melancholy tones of this song coming over the TV with scenes of an empty RFK Stadium the day after the Washington Senators played their last game. I was a teenager and I thought it was the end of the world. I don’t think I cried, but for sure I was stunned that baseball would allow the team to move and confident that they would soon rectify their mistake.
I guess that in on the grand cosmic scale of time, 34 years qualifies as “soon”, but it seems like it’s been forever.
Baseball is back in DC. It’s officially official.
Mayor Anthony Williams signed the stadium financing bill into law today thus removing the final obstacle in the way of the Montreal Expos becoming the Washington Nationals.
I should probably have been truly delighted at the news, but in fact it wasn’t even a relief. It’s difficult to get very emotional about common sense prevailing. If common sense had prevailed all along, the Senators never would have left, the Padres would have moved here, an expansion team would have been placed here, the Expos would have moved here 10 years ago.
But what happened happened. With baseball being gone for 34 years, we missed a lot, including the labor disputes, one of which cancelled the World Series. I suppose that not being attached to a particular team during that time period had its advantages. Still, it would have been nice to have experienced it and have the opportunity to figure it out for myself.